HC70A Overview

This course is the entry point for Bob Goldberg's Teaching Program and is incorporated into the General Education Curriculum of the UCLA College Honors Collegium. HC70A is designed to provide non-science majors and entering life science students with a foundation in molecular biology and genetics as it applies to genetic engineering, and addresses the social, legal, and ethical issues that arise from emerging new genetic technologies in medicine, agriculture, and law. A major goal of this class is to put genetic engineering into a scientific, historic, and social perspective so that students can make objective decisions about how this technology should be used in the future. HC70A is highly interactive, team-oriented, problem-based, and teaches students how to think critically about experimental science and the societal issues raised by advances in genetic engineering, genomics, and human reproduction. HC70A is organized into four parts: (1) an interactive, media-oriented lecture section that includes hands-on "experiments" and demonstrations (2) an undergraduate seminar that focuses on Scientific American articles and is taught by undergraduate teaching fellows, (3) an all-class film and guest-speaker section that brings real-life societal issues into the classroom, and (4) a weekly class reception that allows students to interact in an informal setting with Bob Goldberg and discuss science, educational issues, what it is like to be a professor, and other topics that arise spontaneously in this more informal setting.


HC70A, which is enabled through NSF support, reaches students from all majors, on all possible career paths. For example, freshmen debate seniors, entering life science students help non-science students, and classics majors exchange ideas with future biochemistry majors. A unique collective exists in which students representing the ideas, views, and backgrounds of a cross section of the UCLA campus come together to learn and discuss issues related to the impact of genetic engineering and genomics on society. During the past 18 years, 719 students took HC70A, representing 25 different majors. Women outnumbered men. More than 50% of the students were non-science students, and 27% were life science students who had declared a major but were just beginning the core curriculum required of all life science students at UCLA. In addition, there was almost an even distribution among first, second, third, and fourth year students (freshmen are represented at slightly lower levels). The pie charts shown on this page summarize the HC70A student population over the past 18 years.


The lecture section is fast-paced, media oriented, highly interactive, and makes extensive use of group learning to teach students how to problem solve and think critically about how major scientific discoveries are made. A variety of unique methods and approaches are used to teach students how to think critically about the questions addressed in lecture.

Click here to browse the range of topics and questions addressed in lecture
Click here to browse the unique methods and approaches used to teach the lecture section
Click here to browse the Winter 2020 HC70A course syllabus

Bringing Science to Life in the Classroom

The most rewarding aspects of being a scientist is experiencing the excitement that comes from seeing something "new" for the first time. This is what is most often left out of the traditional classroom education. HC70A in-class demonstrations and hands-on "mini-experiments" are used in HC70A and allow students to take part in a real scientific process, bringing science and the excitement of discovery into the classroom.

Students Talk With a Real Former LAPD Forensic Scientist
chat with Harry Klann after his presentation. They were able to see how evidence from actual crime scenes is gathered, processed, and eventually used in prosecutions of both contemporary and cold cases. Mr. Klann describes the pros and cons of cutting edge forensic techniques as well as the history of DNA's role in crime scene investigation

Genotyping Students in the Class
swab is taken from each student during class and each student's DNA is isolated using a commercial DNA kit. PCR reactions are carried out using D1S80 alpha VNTR primers to describe the range of D1S80 allelic diversity in the HC70A class. Students analyze the gel patterns, describe the range of D1S80 alleles, and calculate their own allelic frequencies relative to the whole class. Click on the link to download the protocol and see sample all-class gel results.
Class DNA Fingerprinting Gel Results

Students "Clone" Bacteria
Students carry out a simulated "cloning experiment" and select for bacteria with different antibiotic markers and genotypes. Students streak bacterial strains with different genotypes in class - no antibiotics, one antibiotic, or two antibiotics - and then take the plates home and observe the results. Students write up a "lab report" on their results, construct hypotheses to explain their results, and propose experiments to test their hypotheses.

Spooling DNA
Students precipitate and spool DNA out of solution in class. Students discuss what the DNA "looks like," what tissue the DNA came from and how it was extracted, and propose hypotheses to explain its viscosity and ability to wind around a rod.

Group Oral Exams

The group oral exams teaches students how to speak in public and think on their feet. Exam questions utilizes an integrative approach that emphasizes experiments, problem-solving, and connections between different subjects. The oral exam consists of groups answering questions as well as challenging other groups with questions. This format fosters student/student exchanges that challenges students to become "their own teachers".

Using Multimedia to Enhance Class Lectures

HC70A makes extensive use of state-of-the art audio-visual equipment and handouts and so that students can listen in class, interact, and participate in discussions, rather than passively receiving information. Videoconferencing software allows other participating campuses to join in as well, and handouts of all notes and figures are scanned, digitized into a PDF-formatted file, and uploaded on the class web site for student use.
Click here to view and download class handouts of Winter 2020.

Lectures are digitally streamed on the class web site and can be accessed 24 hours a day. Lectures are recorded by the Bruincast office, and both Dr. Goldberg and the student use microphones to provide good quality audio. Lectures recorded by Bruincast are also streamed via laptop to distance learners at places like Tuskegee University, allowing real-time participation in the course. The Bruincast office produces videos of every class session that are posted on the class website. Lectures are viewable within an hour after the class has ended.

Using Guest Speakers and Films as a Focal Point for All-Class Discussions on the Relationship Between Science and Society

Dr. Michele Evans Answering Student Questions About In-Vitro Fertilization and Genetic Testing

Guest speakers and films are used to highlight the impact of genetic engineering on society.  Films include documentaries produced by Nova, Nightline, and the Discovery Channel, as well as full-length feature films made in Hollywood.  Documentaries deal with issues as diverse as the discovery of DNA as the genetic material, how genetic engineering was invented, pre-implantation genetic testing, use of DNA to solve crimes, history of agriculture, the GMO controversy, and bioweapons, among others.  Feature films provide life-like enactments and fictionalized stories dealing with how society uses emerging new genetic technology. These include the discovery of the DNA helix, how families are affected by genetic diseases, the consequences of selecting for "perfect" humans, and the potential cultural clash between science and religion, among others.  Guest speakers bring their personal life experiences into the classroom and include the CEO of a biotech company, the head of the Los Angeles DNA testing lab, a reproductive endocrinologist who uses in vitro fertilization to "make babies," and a bioethicist who thinks about genetic engineering, cloning, and the future of humanity.


A Nonlinear Story of Development: Questioning Assumptions and Following Curiosity

Dr. Daisy Robinton, Ph.D., Science Communicator

Tracking Human Ancestry

Dr. John Novembre, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA

Stem Cells: Ethical and Legal Issues

Dr. Russell Korobkin, J.D., Professor, School of Law, UCLA

Infertility and In Virto Fertilization

Dr. Susan Sarajari, M.D., Ph.D. Ob/Gyn and Reproductive Endocrinologist, Pacific Fertility Center

Engineering Plants for Biofuels

Dr. Richard Hamilton, Ph.D. President and CEO, Prosper eDNA Calabasas, CA

GMOs: What's All the Fuss About?

Dr. Alan McHughen, D. Phil. Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside

Using DNA to Catch Criminals

Officer Harry Klann, Criminologist, Criminologist (Retired) Los Angeles Police Department

In Vitro Fertilization and Genetic Testing

Dr. Michele Evans, M.D. Ob/Gyn, Reproductive Endocrinologist, Pacific Fertility Center

Engineering Crops for the Developing World

Dr. Channapatna Prakash, Ph.D., Professor, Plant Molecular Genetics and Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Tuskegee University

Stem Cell Biology and Ethics

Dr. Pei Yun Lee, Ph.D., Dept. of Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology, UCLA

Frankenstein's Cat - What The Future Holds for Engineering Life

Ms. Emily Anthes, Science Journalist and Author

Engineering of the Dog and Its Wild Relatives

Dr. Bob Wayne, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA

Weekly Class Receptions to Promote Interactions Between Bob Goldberg, Guest Speakers, and Students

Bob Goldberg provides receptions for students each week throughout the quarter. These gatherings provide an opportunity for student-professor and student-student interactions in an informal setting. Guest speakers are also included if one is scheduled for the week. Class receptions allow students to discuss a range of issues: future goals, science and society, science politics, local and national politics, and what its like to be a professor, among others things.

HC70A students speaking with a guest speaker during a reception after lecture

Film Discussions

    60 Minutes: George Church (2019)

A Harvard geneticist is working to reverse aging, end genetic diseases, and make humans immune to all viruses. Scott Pelley discusses how close these ideas are to becoming reality, and the potential impacts of these breakthroughs with Dr. Church.

    Food Evolution (2017)

In this film, Neil DeGrasse Tyson narrates Scott Kennedy Hamilton's exploration of the controversy surrounding GMOs by examining the the public debate and the scientific consensus regarding the safety of engineered food.

    Extraordinary Measures (2010)

Based on a true story, parents go to extreme lengths to develop a treatment for their children suffering from a life-threatening genetic disease.

    60 Minutes: Designing life - What's next for Craig J. Venter (2010)

A profile of one of the foremost scientists working in genetic engineering, Venter's team mapped the human genome and created a synthetic form of life.

    DNA (Educational Broadcasting Corporation and Windfall Films with Funding From HHMI) (2003)

Narrated by Jeff Goldblum, this series looks back on the achievements that launched a new era in biology and human life itself. Along with an incredible array of renowned scientists, including five Nobel Laureates, these programs use beautifully realized animations and reconstructions of key experiments to reveal the molecular basis of life in a way never seen before.

    History's Harvest: Where Food Comes From (ASPB Education Foundation) (2002)

In this film, Bob Goldberg explores the controversy of genetic engineering by putting the debate in an historical perspective. The film explores the scientific evidence behind the controversy over genetically modified (GM) food, presenting a sweeping view of 10,000 years of agricultural history. Click here to view clips from the film History's Harvest.

    GATTACA (1997)

Futuristic story of a genetically imperfect man and his seemingly unobtainable goal to travel in space.

    Nightline: Kerry Mullis & PCR (1994)

A documentary about the inventor of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

    The Race for the Double Helix (1987)

Watson and Crick race to find the structure of DNA before Linus Pauling, Maurice Wilkins, or Rosalind Franklin can find the key to unlocking the secret.

    Nova: The Gene Engineers (1977)

A documentary examining how society and scientists grappled with legal and ethical questions arising from the birth of genetic engineering.

    The Lysenko Affair (Nova) (1975)

The Lysenko Affair was perhaps the most bizarre chapter in the history of modern science. For thirty years, until 1965, Soviet genetics was dominated by a fanatical agronomist who achieved dictatorial power over genetics and plant science as well as agronomy.

    Knowledge or Certainty (The Ascent of Man) (1973)

Moral dilemmas confront todays' scientists, from nuclear energy, to the development of weaponry, to human experiments. Jacob Bronowski offers his personal views.

    Inherit the Wind (1960)

Based on a real-life case in 1925, two great lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution.

    Nova: Genetic Prophecy

This program shows the potential benefits and explores some of the social, economic, and ethical dilemmas stemming from the human genome project.